What to do if your business reports sink without trace

Do you enjoy writing business reports? If you answered “no”, I reckon you’re in good company - not many people do!

Here are some quick tips for writing reports that get read and acted on:

Don’t make your report complex, even if it’s about a complex subject. In a work environment, many people feel they have to fill their reports with long words and important-sounding phrases  - but in fact, the opposite is true. Complications kill trust- and it has nothing to do with the intelligence or experience of your readers. The reality is, no-one wants to work hard to try to understand your information. Keep your language simple, even if you're addressing a serious subject.

Lead with your punchline. Unlike a joke, where you work your way to the important line at the end, put the juiciest part of the report right at the start. There’s no guarantee your readers will stay with you until the end, so make it super-simple for them by putting the punchline up in lights at the beginning, then fill in the background for those who want to read more. Don’t make them wade through lots of information to get to the crucial parts.

Cater to people's different communication styles. Some will just want the highlights, others will want the full show. Put the recommendation/crucial paragraph at the start, followed by a summary of the whole report in three or four dot points. Break up the report with headings and don’t be afraid to use simple graphic design elements, like putting an important paragraph in a highlighted box, to avoid confronting your reader with big chunks of text. Use hyperlinks to background material, to accommodate those who want all the facts.

It’s possible to bring even the driest of reports to life with a little extra thought. These steps will help you avoid producing reports that sink without trace. Instead, they’ll hit their mark and have impact.

Neryl EastComment